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Abandoned Books

The other day I ran across an article in The Guardian that reported on a regular list published by the Travelodge Corporation noting the titles of books left behind after guests departed following their stay in one of their motels/hotels. Among the top ten last month was the latest Harry Potter. The little story got me to thinking about books that were huge disappointments. One invests some money in a eagerly awaited book only to find it a bust. Of course, the charitable explanation is that the previous owner wanted to leave the next guest something more appealing to read than the Gideon Bible (or in a Marriott: The Book of Mormon) but I am not sanguine about the plausibility of that motivation. So, Commonweal Nation, got any bad books that you would gladly leave behind? Or, simply, read anything really disappointing recently? I have at least one candidate but: you first.

About the Author

Lawrence Cunningham is John O'Brien professor of Theology (Emeritus) at the University of Notre Dame.



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Hello All,My own answer to Lawrence's question is extremely easy: H. W. Crocker's "Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church", which was published by Three Rivers Press in 2003. Since this book has been in print several years now chances are good that most participants here already know about it. But just in case any here don't know about this book I strongly recomend avoiding it.I made the mistake of buying this book after reading only a few pages, which fooled me into thinking that this book was a serious one volume history of the Roman Catholic Church. Once I started reading this book systematically, I quickly learned it is full of factual errors, relies on extremely suspect secondary literature about philosophy, history and theology, and packs plenty of diatribe against Protestants and the Orthodox. At the earliest opportunity I gave this book to one of my graduate students who is also interested in the history of the Catholic Church, after I duly warned him how bad I thought it was. He hated it, too, but I had also warned him I would not take it back from him!What I find remarkable is what a favorable reception this book has received in some quarters. "Triumph" has received praise from some serious scholars like Ralph McInerney who should know better. My graduate student wanted to read this book even though he respects my opinion because he told me he knew of a seminary where this book was being read aloud during meals. I'm sure my student was right, which frankly distresses me. No one, seminarian or otherwise, should be taught such a work and especially should not be led to believe it's good history.Okay, how was that for a tantrum!

I would leave behind anything from the Left Behind series. The writing is so bad that that they aren't even entertaining as examples of howlers. My father-in-law keeps giving them to me. I keep tossing them and they keep reappearing. I think it must be some kind of metaphysical test or something. Or maybe a punishment from God.

The latest books I couldn't finish were A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Mansfield Park, anything by Patrick O'Brian (loved the movie, though) and O, Pioneers!One time on retreat I threw Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander across the room and went out to watch the Mets game on TV. But that's a little personal.

Oooooh, another book post. Lawrence Cunningham, I am your fan 4-ever."Lord of the Rings." I felt compelled to slog through this because a) I was a medieval lit student and b) reading it was rumored to be a guy magnet. Except the guys it would attract never wanted to take you to dinner and a show, just blabber on about the book to prove how smart they were. I remain embittered about the hours of my life lost to this book.At least the movie had Sean Bean.All of GK Chesterton's Father Brown stories. Anything by Jan Karon and that horrid Mitford place."Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein. I used to want to leave a dent in people's head who used the word "grok" in conversations.More recently "The Devil Wears Prada." That girl was such a patsy, I was ready to strangle her halfway through with my pure white signature Hermes scarf. Didn't even finish it.

Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Good lord, what a nightmare of a book. Fortunately, my parents had just gotten a puppy, so when I read it while at home on summer vacation, the puppy tore it to shreds. I look to that as a moment of grace.

Wonderful book: A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.The sequel, a perfectly awful book: Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman Terrific book: The Traveler, by John Twelve HawksThe sequel, very disappointing (although not unreadable): The Dark River

One of the "Dianetics" books by L. Ron Hubbard.I can't remember the exact title, but I had to read it for a course. The professor who assigned it was a sadist. Unbelievably a-w-f-u-l. Jean, you're killing me with adding "Lord of the Rings" to this list. :)I've read it about a dozen times, and Tolkien's genius in creating an entire world (including voluminous appendices with myriad additional details) always comes through for me. Not only is the book much better than the movies, IMO, but if I remember correctly, a poll of readers at selected it as the most popular book of the 20th century. To each his/her own, however. :):)

A couple of years ago, the men's group in my previous parish advertised a group study of a book called "Mystery of the Kingdom" by Edward Sri, a professor of theology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. The book purported to be a study of the theme of the Kingdom of God in the Gospel of Matthew, and I was intrigued that such a heady topic would come from so parochial (sic) a group.I should have known better when I saw the endorsements on the back of the book: Scott Hahn, Curtis Martin, etc. But being a generous type, I signed up anyway. Give the guy the benefit of the doubt, I said.Well, that was a mistake. Employing a very simplistic, almost literalist hermeneutic, Sri tries to convince his readers that virtually every word and action of Jesus' was yet another thinly veiled foreshadowing of his divinity and of the coming glories of the Catholic Church. Very disappointing. I'm not sure whether I would leave this book behind for someone else to pick up. I'd probably put it in the recycling bin instead.Jean: I'm not surprised by your reaction to The Lord of the Rings. It's more of a guy thing, I think. My wife doesn't get it, either. She did, however, very graciously sit with me through all three movies (the extended versions, to boot) over the course of a recent weekend. I, on the other hand, make it a point to reread the book every year--I never tire of it.

Mark--You raise a good point. My wife and daughter are also not enamored with Lord of the Rings, but they, too, have sat through the extended versions of the movies, though not in one weekend. I think they would consider that cruel and unusual punishment. My son, on the other hand, is also a fan of the book.You and I will have to start posting here in Elvish. ;)

It's a little esoteric, but I was bored by the second volume of Anthony Kenny's memoirs, of which I forget the title, and didn't get through much of it. The first volume, Path From Rome, I found fascinating. I wonder if there are other books by people who stayed priests that have the same detailed description of what the priestly life in that era was like.We received a genuinely dreadful book called Open Marriage (I think) as a wedding present, which I threw into a box and didn't look at until about ten years later, whereupon I promptly walked to the dumpster and threw it in, and went straight into the shower. Strangely enough, this same thing happened with the same book to a friend of mine, except that it was his mother that gave them the book.I actually read The Hobbit, but gave up on the Lord of the Rings after about 100 pages without regret. I have a bit of fascination with Tolkien, but right about that time I got through Troilus and Criseide, which was much better.

Now look, men, Tolkien didn't "create a whole world." He adapted it from Norse mythology and bits of Celtic lore. While I marvel at the way Tolkien stitched bits of his source material together to play with plot ideas, language and theme, LOTR is not a good book. It's just not. The sum of some of its most wonderful parts simply don't add up to a wonderful whole. They add up to a bloody bore.Those who have female relatives and wives who have spent hours of their lives watching the movies or listening to you go on and on about the virtues of Elvish weapons vs. Dwarfish ones are blessed indeed.I urge you to show your gratitude RIGHT TODAY by running out and getting that eight-hour "Pride and Prejudice" series (not the short version with that scrawny Kiera Knightley and the Mr. Darcy who looks like Deputy Dawg). And then sit there and watch it and offer to get the drinks and popcorn.It's the least you can do.To Jeff: One smart puppy!

Jean--I'm standing pat on LOTR. ;)I doubt I can entice you to read some of the bios of Tolkien, and especially his edited letters, but there's a lot of substance behind Tolkien and LOTR, including his inclusion of Christian symbolism and themes. That he was a devout Catholic is obviously not reason enough to read his books, but IMO his books are more nuanced than they might appear at first reading. Still, I respect your choice to miss out on one of life's reading pleasures. :)As to the eight-hour "Pride and Prejudice" series (the one with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy), I've seen it several times. It's great in every way--script, casting, acting, cinematography, etc.

William, William. Has being Catholic taught you nothing? Error has no rights!Tolkien's criticism is wonderful. So are his letters and his Catholic meditations, which I have read. Many are sitting on my bookshelf even now.And so is LOTR, every blasted word of which I have read. Hence I know of whereof I speak when I say it is an interesting synthesis and a bad novel,.Mr. Darcy agrees with me. I'll shut up now.

I'm with William on this one. The letters are quite revealing. I was especially struck by one almost throw-away sentence in a letter, I believe, to his publisher. I can't find the exact quote right now, so I will paraphrase it:"It is a thoroughly Catholic work, which of course means it is sad."Gives a good window both into the sense of melancholy that pervades the book, as well as into Tolkien's own experience of his faith as an English Catholic in the early and middle twentieth century. It also helps explain The Silmarillion, and the newly-released Children of Turin, which I gobbled up as soon as it was released.Jean, you don't know what you're missing.As for Pride and Prejudice: I bought the eight-hour movie for my wife's birthday, but we have yet to watch it. No worries, though. Given all the other romantic comedies I have watched lo these past ten years, I don't feel too bad. And yes, I do serve drinks during these screenings.But since this is supposed to be a thread about books we really don't like, I'll return to the main subject (forgive us, Prof. Cunningham!). I would include in this list Bart Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus--The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why." Basically, it's the story of a sensitive Wheaton Collge student who experiences a crisis of faith when he learns about redaction criticism. If Moses or Matthew didn't write it, then it's not to be trusted. Not the kind of response I expected from a scholar. Dan Brown, perhaps, but the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Chapel Hill? Very disappointing.Oh, and one more thing for Mr. Collier: Elen sila lumenn omentielvoA star shines on the hour of our meeting.

William and Mark: I HAVE READ LOTR. I am not missing anything except several hours of my life spent reading it that I want back.You are both wrong and that starts with double-yoo and that stands for warg, of which I hope many dig holes in your lawn.Mr. Darcy agrees.

Romantic comedy indeed.

Did not finish:LOTR -- stopped caring about any character of any import and thought the whole work was pretty darned tedious. The problem with creating a world in the Tolkien sense is that you spend so much effort describing its details you lose every other thing that usually matters in a story.Ulysses -- Have made it on several occasions through Ch. 4 and then stopped. At one time I read the first and last paragraph of all subsequent chapters and skimmed for various "important" bits and then put it down forever. Somehow, I don't think James Joyce would mind being handled in that manner. After all, if he stood for anything, it was self-indulgent self-expression. As E.B. White once said about Joyce: It takes more than genius to keep me reading a work of fiction. (To understand why I hated Ulysses it might help to know that I think The Tin Drum is the greatest work of fiction of the 20th century. A day in the life of some guy in Dublin doesn't matter a whole lot to me.)There are any number of recent works of fiction that I consider not worth the effort (anything by Joanna Trollope?) and I have no clue how they continue to get such glowing reviews but they're usually too short not to finish. Except for A.S. Byatt: a lot of dense nothing in my opinion. For whatever it's worth.

Pride and Prejudice is Miltonian in scope. Austen examines human motivations at their strenuous heart.Guys just want to roam Middle Earth and kill Orcs.

I don't know what else to say, Jean, other than I've started a novena for you. I'll also be asking Saint J.R.R. to TRY to intercede on your behalf in heaven so that you don't get consigned to Mordor in the next life. And I agree with the multi-lingual Mark Jameson about Prof. Ehrman's latest book. A disappointment for me, too, for the reasons stated, especially after having read and enjoyed some of his earlier work.

Wasn't it Mrs. James Joyce who asked her husband, "Why don't you write books people can understand?"Yeah, I don't get the Joanna Trollope phenomenon, either. And, especially as more time goes by, the more disappointed I am with the final Harry Potter, and it has marred my happy memories of reading the previous six books.I can't say this in front of my husband or son, because the Harry canon is sacred. But, then, they like LOTR. (William, Mr. Darcy and I are touched by the novena.)

I find that books that I think I have given up on can have a second life if I pick them up at the right moment.I started Jane Smiley's 13 Ways to Read a Novel last winter and stopped after the first chapter. Summer : I picked it up again and thought it was a smart and illuminating book by a novel lover (and writer). Wonderfully interesting and intelligent. But I set it aside when she went on about Our Mutual Friend (Charles Dickens) being perhaps the greatest novel in the English language. I read his 800 pages on vacation (Penguin edition). One of the few Dickens's I'd never read, I found it fascinating--since the serial nature of its composition positively jumped off the page and the convergences were definitely deus ex .... So not the greatest novel in the English language, but wonderful for a Dickens lover to see him struggling along (it was I think his last completed novel). Will finish Smiley this week-end!I have definitely abandoned Robert Schrum's No Excuses: The Confessions of a Serial Campaigner. The man (Kerry's campaign manager) is shameless! Will send it to anyone who wants to pay the postage.

And Larry, have you told us yet what you've abandoned?

Since it is Friday afternoon and I have made a solemn vow never to turn on my computer over the weekend, I guess it is time to name a disappointing book. I eagerly awaited James J. O'Donnell's biography of Saint Augustine because of my enormous admiration for his three volume commentary on The Confessions (a work I still use fairly often). To my chagrin, his biography was a work, by turns,sour and snotty. I finished it despite my antipathy at its tone. It still sits on a table and I doubt I will ever look at it again.P.S. I read the above posts with interest but truth demands that I confess never having read a line of Tolkein nor any Harry Potter or the fiction/phantasy of C.S. Lewis although, in the latter case, I did read bits to my children, long ago, to keep them quiet in the car until we came into view The Golden Arches.

Re: Jane Smiley -- I haven't been able to finish anything she wrote after "The Greenlanders," a book that I picked up in S.F. 10 years ago and couldn't put down, until it became incredibly painful (in the empathetic sense) to read, at which point, I read it only a couple of pages at a time until the end. The drama and eloquence of that work make everything else she has done thereafter seem pale in comparison.Re: O'Donnell -- I read that book while on maternity leave. I'm not a scholar so no doubt I don't have the same frame of reference and didn't have the same reaction. I do think that it's virtually impossible to recreate in a personal sense the life of anyone who lived so long ago. I found the commentary interesting and read several of the books referenced in footnotes. It was very critical, to be sure, with some hyperbole -- like the suggestion that the fast rise of Islam in North Africa can be attributed at least in part to the overall weakening of loyalty of Donatists to the Church as a result of Augustine's resolution of that matter. That seemed over the top to me.

Kathy writes:Pride and Prejudice is Miltonian in scope. Austen examines human motivations at their strenuous heart. Guys just want to roam Middle Earth and kill Orcs.Mark replies:I didn't intend to put the novel Pride and Prejudice on the same level as the current crop of romantic comedies I have imbibed with my beloved. I'm sure Jane Austen is not easily reducible to 100 minutes with Keira Knightley and Deputy Dawg. I've never read Austen, so I can't comment. All I know is the aforementioned Pride and Prejudice film, the Gwynneth Paltrow Emma, and the Alicia Silverstone Clueless. But I suspect, given her place in the canon, that she's the real deal. Sorry, all I can do is speak out of ignorance--a task I seem to have mastered.At the same time, I would find it hard to reduce LOTR to a bunch of hirsute Men and furry-toed Hobbits running about with swords killing Orcs while wizards cast their spells. Whether or not you like Tolkien's manner of writing, his works deal with themes of redemption, temptation, sacrifice, and loss. The mere fact that Frodo failed at his quest and was forever scarred by that failure--when Tolkien could have just as easily made him into a spotless, conquering hero--speaks volumes about the author's literary chops. Sort of like the way Ray Bradbury tells wrenching human stories in Buck Rogers-type settings.Sorry to revert to Topic B . . . again. I'll try to shut up now. Really. I'll try.

One of the things that O'Donnell wrote in his book on Augustine may be appropo to this discussion. Namely that Augustine is responsible for the notion that one can find the answers to life in a book. We seem to keep reading hoping that one magic book will totally transform us. I can well understand objections by Catholics to O'Donnell's book on Augustine. O'Donnell basically destroys many myths about Augustine, especially the one's that have come down to the RCC as universal teaching. The book is quite critical of Augustine while at the same time acknowledging Augustine's unique character.

One final word on LOTR, Mark, on an issue that I don't think anyone has mentioned: Tolkien was on the whole somewhat skimpy in developing strong female characters in the book. Arwen, Galadriel, and Eowyn have moments of great importance in the plot (especially Eowyn in the pivotal battle scene), but for the most part women are relegated to the subtext of the book. (In the movies both Arwen and Eowyn were given slightly expanded roles.) Perhaps that is a reason why Jean and Barbara and some other women are not as enthusiastic about LOTR as many men are. Nevertheless, my novena for Jean will soon be entering its second day.

I admit, Frodo has an interior life.And Elizabeth is characteristically roaming, which would seem to defy the characterization that men are extensive / shallow / violent, women are intensive / thoughtful . She definitively falls for Darcy, though, when they crest the hill and she sees Pemberley, a home. Is there room in Tolkien's thinking for strong female characters? I have an inkiling: no.

I don't think you can judge Tolkien's women characters by modern standards. Tolkien was an Anglo-Saxon scholar, and his novel is a synthesis of Anglo-Saxon forms--hero/king sagas (Hrothgar/Aragorn), saints lives (Cuthbert/Frodo), and Celtic fairy lore (Ents, dwarves, orcs, wargs, and that guy who turns into a bear at night). These shifts in tone help make the novel an interesting experiment, and a very bad novel.Women in Anglo-Saxon literature are the historians and protectors of the culture. That looks passive to us, but it was an extremely important role in a very chaotic social time.In addition, the Chronicle is full of real women who stood up to power and won. (There's an enigmatic passage in the Chronicle about a queen who got an army up and defeated her husband at Colchester, I believe. What that was about is anyone's guess, but she was plenty ticked off about something and wasn't going to sit home with a lot of ladies and stew about it over her embroidery.)And in LOTR women are willing to pick up swords to protect and defend their people. Jane Austen's genius as a novelist is that she was able to raise gossip about the neighbors to an art form. Nobody's ever been able to duplicate it. Kathy's right on target about the fact that the romance in P&P doesn't get going until Lizzy gets a load of Pemberley. I don't think modern readers can quite get their heads around how imortant that would have been to Lizzy--a comfortable home, social status, and a ticket away from that dreadful family--so Andrew Davies, the screen writer, threw in the famous Colin Firth wet-shirt scene as an added attraction.OK, I'm done boring everyone for this weekend.

Correction: Jane Smiley's book is called 13 Ways to Look at the Novel--a non-fiction book about fiction. Anyone want the Schrum book?

I tried to read Annie Proulx's "The Shipping News" at least three times and each time gave up before I had reached the halfway point. I just never cared enough about Quoyle or the Newfoundland coast to continue reading the story.

I don't know if the perceived lack of fully characterized women (if that's a fair paraphrase) in Tolkien can be ascribed to his medieval/linguistic scholarship -- I suspect it may have something to do with his South African/colonial origins. Something similar has often been said about the women in John Buchan who also has a South African/colonial background, although at a rather different age.Since I've chimed in I thought I would say (in addition to noting that I really liked the only Joanna Trollope book I've read, though I prefer her namesake) that it's not very fair to deny that Tolkien created a whole world -- it's a little like saying that Virgil or Shakespeare didn't create a world, they only got it from Homer or Seneca or Marlowe. Try Housman's parody of a Greek tragedy if you want to see what Englishing the disiecta membra without real creative genius is like.Our Mutual Friend is the longest book I've read twice -- when I took a course in the 19th century novel in 1968 it was considered quite eccentric to choose that as the Dickens book, but I think attitudes have shifted significantly since then. Last time I read it (charging through it enthusiastically) I tried to follow it with Nicholas Nickleby and bogged down on page 40.

My wife watched LOR while I attended to keep her company. She watches all kinds of movies like that plus karate chop movies of all kinds. My daughter watched all the Halloween movies while I cannot watch one. How is that for destroying all the stereotypes?

Gene, I'd argue that it's a bit of a logical stretch to say that a) Buchan doesn't have fully realized women, b) Buchan grew up in colonial South Africa, c) Tolkien grew up in colonial South Africa, ERGO Tolkien's women aren't fully realized. I also think that your contention ignores the source material Tolkien drew from and in which he was immersed for decades, sources in which men and women had more or less predictable roles. Do you think Aragorn, Boromir, Gimli and the rest of the boys are any more "fully realized" than the women? I don't. They run around doing more stuff, but we don't see inside their heads any more than the women's. The only characters with any interior lives are the hobbits, because their quest is as much spiritual/mental as it is physical. LOTR mimics that period moment when English literature was moving away from the oral, heroic tradition and toward a new, literate Catholic/Christian sensibility.I don't deny that Tolkien was very inventive and made up an interesting landscape for Middle Earth. Only that he synthesized from what was already there. It's not made up out of whole cloth.And, sorry, despite the fact that I appreciate all this, I still find the novels a bloody bore. (Day Three of William's Novena, and I'm still not getting better.)

Jean:I think you're right about Tolkien's women. I wouldn't attribute their relative silence to his youth in colonial South Africa, either. What I find intriguing--and this may be a reflection of his source material--is the way the women seem to hover over the narrative throughout the book. For example, once the group passes through Lorien, Galadriel never quite leaves the picture. Sort of like the way Goldberry is always on Tom Bombadil's mind, even when he is rescuing the Hobbits from the barrow wights. And the story of Beren and Luthien casts its own shadow (again, a melancholy one) over Aragorn and Arwen's hoped-for union.One commentator, I forget who, likened this use of women to the role that the Virgin Mary had in Tolkien's Catholicism. He himself made a similar parallel in one of his letters.As for Aragorn and the rest of the "boys" not being all that realized, I'm not sure I agree. As you noted, this is a different kind of literature than Pride and Prejudice. Tolkien takes more time describing the flora and fauna of Ithilien, for instance, than he does Faramir's conflicts over the war he must fight. But those conflicts are there; they are real; and they are gripping. It is not only the Hobbits whose quest is as spiritual as it is physical. Denethor is tormented. Galadriel's path is bittersweet. Eowyn's is liberating. And Smeagol's is just plain tragic.As for Tolkien's inventiveness in creating Middle Earth with its various peoples and places, Gene's comment about Shakespeare, et al., is completely apt. In yet another letter, Tolkien spoke about the genesis of his entire Middle Earth mythhology, beginning with the "Elder Days" as told in The Silmarillion. Essentially, he came up with the place first, then decided he needed to people it. That gave rise to the various languages he developed. And once he had the peoples, living in their lands and speaking their languages, he needed something for them to do. His description may be a bit too coy to be completely believed, but it sounds as if the plot unfolded from these prior elements. That may help explain the story's appeal/lack of appeal when compared with other novels.Sorry to hear, by the way, that William's Novena has not yet had any salutary effects on you. Perhaps I should start fasting as well!

Mark, I read "The Silmarillion" just after Christopher Tolkien released it, and I truly liked it. It reminded me of a fragment, like the Mabinogeon, of something bigger that was lost.You are right; the men don't run around just acting blindly or not being conflicted. But I only said that their inner lives weren't any more clear than those of the women's. Your comment, "... women seem to hover over the narrative throughout the book," is also fascinating.Hovering women, often supernatural women, are harbingers of unfinished tasks and quests (as every man with a wife and an unmowed lawn knows).The witches hovered and Macbeth was made thane and king. The Norns hovered and a hero brought his quest to a close successfully or died. Morgan le Fay and her sisters hovered and Camelot fell.Without hovering women, nothing gets done. Civilization becomes static. Men start singing tuneless songs and wondering if maybe they should figure out why the water heater clunks, if if maybe they shouldn't go round up those pesky rings that are causing problems, but maybe there's another beer in the fridge, no sense in hurrying into anything.The hovering woman in literature is often a supernatural force and is more powerful than armies and armor. Wyrd oft nereth unfaegne eorl thonne his ellen deah! (Fate--or the Weird Sisters--often save an unfated/undoomed man when his courage holds), Beowulf says. But he's still doomed, isn't he? Unless you're James Thurber and you've got a unicorn in your garden.Really, I have to say this is the most entertaining discussion of LOTR I've ever had. Way better than with those college guys with scraggly beards blabbering on just to hear their heads roar back in the olden days. So I suppose now I'm glad I read it just to have participated. The novena has worked. Praise be!So don't quit eating. Or you're likely to find some woman hovering over you. :--)

"Hovering women, often supernatural women, are harbingers of unfinished tasks and quests (as every man with a wife and an unmowed lawn knows)."Mark, Jean, you sound eXACTly like Chapter 8 of Lumen Gentium.

Ah, the power of prayer, and Mark's literate LOTR analyses.If truth be told, Jean, I doubled up on the petition activity. It's entirely possible you may get the uncontrollable urge to take 8 companions on a year-long quest to Michigan's stand-in for Mordor, the U.P. I for one will be looking forward to "There and Back Again, Jean Raber's Tale." ;)

William, there are many Mordor-like places in Michigan--I grew up a few blocks from the Dow Chemical plant where the orcs manufactured napalm--but the U.P. is not one of them. It is beautiful, rugged, and the beer is Canadian. I plan to retire there. But will not be taking my copy of LOTR up there.Kathy, does it say in Lumen Gentium that men have to do yard work? Because, really, if you could see my yard, you'd realize hovering has not worked all that well, not even when I've got my girlfriends over here to talk loud about how nice the yard would look if only blah blah in front of a Certain Spouse, and I think I need some type of Papal encyclical to get some teeth into the hovering routine.Or maybe get St. Martha to help me hover. I think she could get a lot of things done doing that.

Kathy, yes LG 8 fits very well. Not surprising, either, since Tolkien took his Catholicism very seriously and sought to weave it in the texture of his writing. No simple allegory would do. Which is why there is no one-to-one correspondence between a character in LOTR and a biblical figure. So different aspects of Mary's persona show up in Arwen, Galadriel, and even Eowyn. Likewise, Jesus shows up in Frodo (the priest), Gandalf (the prophet), and Aragorn (the king). He is none of them, and all of them.Jean, I wonder whether hovering women is one of the consequences of the fall--a sort of felix culpa, if you will. Women would not need to hover if we men were better motivated. Or does it go much deeper than that, to the very root of the complementarity of the sexes?As for lit crit and Tolkien, you must know, or have guessed already, that these few paltry insights did not come to me at my first reading. Back then, when I was a sophomore in high school, it was more the "gee whiz" element of swords, sorcery, and quests that appealed to me. But something kept drawing me back, and I kept reading it. Now, well ensconced in my 40's, I read it differently, and as I said previously, I never fail to find something new in it. Maybe it's become a kind of Rorschach test for me.Tolkien famously said of his writing of LOTR, "The tale grew with the telling." I suppose the tale grows with the reading as well.I've never visited the Upper Peninsula, so I can't comment on its likeness to Mordor. The farthest north I've ever been was Lake Leelanau. A bit tony for my tastes (and budget), but still quite attractive. Ann Arbor has its charms as well, but that's about as far as my knowledge of Michigan goes.

Jean, I guess when you read Lumen Gentium as a whole, it does suggest that men have to do some of the most important yard work. But not all, ladies, so let's put on our gloves.As George Alford inimitably said:"All the world is God's own field,Fruit unto His praise to yield:Wheat and tares together sown,Unto joy or sorrow grown.First the blade, and then the ear,Then the full corn shall appear:Grant, O harvest Lord, that weWholesome grain and pure may be."We work by the sweat of our brow and hope there will be some fruition. Meanwhile, Mary, type and promise, Star of the Sea, hovers.

Mark says: Jean, I wonder whether hovering women is one of the consequences of the fall--a sort of felix culpa, if you will. Women would not need to hover if we men were better motivated. Or does it go much deeper than that, to the very root of the complementarity of the sexes?Jean says: Mark, I just don't think that deep. My only observation is that some hovering could be replaced with harmony by condo living where a yard man takes care of stuff. But that is a long-term hovering goal.

(I meant Henry Alford. To the tune of St. George's, Windsor, by George J. Elvey.)Condo living does not reap such rewards as the mess of string beans I just stir fried. I thought the plants had dried up in the drought; who knew that the harvest was just beginning?Did Sam garden Frodo? Nah...

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